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At the end of January 2010 two distinguished scientific institutions shared headlines with Tony Blair over accusations of the dishonest and possibly illegal manipulation of information. Our ‘Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035′ of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is matched by his ‘dodgy dossier’ of Saddam’s fictitious subversions. . . . The parallels are significant and troubling, for on both sides they involve a betrayal of public trust. . . .
Climategate is particularly significant because it cannot be blamed on the well-known malign influences from outside science, be they greedy corporations or an unscrupulous State. This scandal, and the resulting crisis, was created by people within science who can be presumed to have been acting with the best of intentions. In the event of a serious discrediting of the global-warming claims, public outrage would therefore be directed at the community of science itself, and (from within that community) at its leaders who were either ignorant or complicit until the scandal was blown open. If we are to understand Climategate, and move towards a restoration of trust, we should consider the structural features of the situation that fostered and nurtured the damaging practices. I believe that the ideas of Post-Normal Science (as developed by Silvio Funtowicz and myself) can help our understanding. . . .
And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science. The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection. What sort of chaos would then result? The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary.
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Scientists who have been forced to work on the blogosphere have had the invaluable experience of exclusion and oppression; that could make it easier for them to accept that something is seriously wrong and then to engage in the challenging moral adventures of dealing with uncertainty and ignorance. The new technologies of communications are revolutionising knowledge and power in many areas. The extended peer community of science on the blogosphere will be playing its part in that process. Let dialogue commence!
Though long, I strongly recommend reading the full article.
At his web site, Ravetz summarizes his work.
. . .As I became aware of science as an intellectual and social phenomenon, I was impressed by certain similarities to what I had been told about dogmatic religion. .. . .But I discovered that in science, teaching was (and mainly still is) dogmatic, and individual initiative is stifled up to the very highest levels of learning. Also, the progress of science reminds us that yesterday’s examination truths are today’s outmoded opinions. And while science has, through its applications, been responsible for great benefits, during my lifetime, starting with The Bomb and then environmental degradation, the applications of science have been shown to be double-edged. . . .
The situation might be summed up in two epigrams. One, from Robert Sinsheimer, is that formerly we asked what science is doing for us, while now we ask what science is doing to us. The other, from myself and Silvio, is that formerly science was considered as having ‘hard facts’ in contrast to the soft, subjective humanities, while now we confront hard policy issues for which the scientific inputs are frequently irremediably soft. . . .
My own story would not be complete without a mention of my personal explorations in inward awareness, which becomes stronger and more meaningful all the time. It started with an experience of Hindu spirituality that was bizarre and meaningful in equal measures, and which has stimulated me to reflection for the decades ever seince. . . .
See his book: “Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems”